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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

After Aarey, threat to another green area

The Manori-Gorai-Uttan area has regularly erupted in protests whenever the government makes plan to bring construction to the area

mumbai Updated: Oct 13, 2019 23:59 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
Mangroves at Gorai make up part of the green stretch dividing Mumbai and Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporations.
Mangroves at Gorai make up part of the green stretch dividing Mumbai and Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporations. (HT Photo)

After Aarey Milk Colony, one of the largest green areas in the Mumbai region is the Manori-Gorai-Uttan area, divided between Mumbai and Mira-Bhayandar municipal corporations.

The region, which has around a dozen villages surrounded by farms, mangrove forests and coconut groves, is located west of the booming suburbs, between Malad and Bhayandar. What has stopped urban sprawl from these suburbs from obliterating these villages is the absence of bridges over the creeks and mangrove forests that separate the region from Mumbai. The area’s only link to the rest of Mumbai is two ferry routes – from Borivli and Marve, Malad. The only road link to the region is through Mira-Bhayandar in the north.

The region has regularly erupted in protests whenever the government’s planning agencies come up with a plan to bring construction to the area. When a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) centering on tourism was proposed in the area more than a decade ago, residents campaigned against it till the project was shelved. In 2010, when there were reports of a new bridge that would link Marve with Manori, the southernmost village in the region, there were protests. The proposal was shelved till it was revived in 2016-17, leading to protests.

With its open lands, one of the last stretches of unconstructed areas in Mumbai, the region – like Aarey – is on the radar of the government, which wants to open up the area to construction. Recently, residents of the area reported construction work near Manori jetty and were told that it for a RoRo (roll-on roll-off service that can ferry vehicles) from Marve on the mainland. They were told that this was one of the two RoRo services proposed in the region – the other one will connect Borivli to Gorai.

Residents were surprised because the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Area Development Authority (MMRDA) – the planning agency for an urban area spread over 4,300 square kms – has also planned bridges at these sites. The RoRo is being constructed by the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB). “How can the MMB start work on the RoRo service without MMRDA cancelling its bridge plans? We think the RoRo work is the foundation for the bridges,” says Lourdes D’souza of the Dharavi Beth Bachao Samiti, a group campaigning to protect the area from construction (Dharavi is the local name for the region).

The group went to the Bombay High Court to oppose the RoRo project, saying that the work involved destruction of mangrove forests. Godfrey Pimenta, a lawyer who has been part of the campaign to stop construction from destroying the region, said, “The road from Bhayandar is being widened and this road will connect to the [proposed] Coastal Road from Manori to Bhayandar. The road will carry traffic from Mumbai to the Ahmedabad highway.”

The changes will also destroy the area’s unique cultural heritage. The areas were part of Portuguese Bassein (Vasai) before it was ceded to the British and still has vestiges of the time, including Indo-Portuguese architecture, a Roman Catholic community called East Indians – descendants of fishing, farming, salt-making castes that converted in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and its own Marathi dialect influenced by the Portuguese.

The East Indians manage a small museum at Manori that displays some of this heritage. “Don’t touch these villages; these are remnants of old Mumbai, everything else has been wiped out,” says D’Souza.

Residents of the area are also worried that they will lose their land to construction firms if the bridges are built. Many of them own land passed on by ancestors, but do not have documents to prove their ownership.

“This means if a sibling wants to sell ancestral land, others will be forced to do so,” says D’Souza.

Despite the protests, the area has already seen a lot of changes, with amusement parks, a training academy run by a political group and a meditation centre, among other things, having been built. Recently, plans to allocate 100 acres for a law college were dropped after opposition from residents.

“The land could have been allocated for schools and colleges that can benefit the local population,” said D’Souza. “We do not want the bridges or the RoRo services; it is being forced on us, we have not asked for it.”